Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Plea Deal Reached with Chinese Artifacts Dealer Charged with Obstruction

An antiquities gallery and its manager entered agreements with federal prosecutors last week to plead guilty to obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2).
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida last month charged Lorin & Son, LLC, a Nevada-based company doing business in Florida as Asiantiques, as well as its manager, Francois Lorin, with illegally tampering with the customs process by supplying false information about imported Chinese artifacts.

The plea agreement filed by U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer's office last Thursday in federal district court makes the following offer of proof:
Pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and the People's Republic of China entered into as of January 14, 2009 (the ''MOU'') archaeological materials representing China's cultural heritage from the Paleolithic Period (c. 75,000 B.C.) through the end of the Tang Period (A.D. 907) could not be imported into the United States absent specific prior government approvals, If, however, such items were already in the United States as of the MOU date, the items could be re-imported without prior authorization.  
On or about May 14, 2011, Asiantiques exported a shipment of Chinese artifacts to Hong Kong for an antiques trade show. The value upon export was declared as $1,592,695. On or about June 10, 2011, Asiantiques submitted a Formal Entry Form 3461 to U,S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP"') in order to import what purported to be the same shipment of Chinese artifacts back to the United States through the Port of Miami, in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Upon return of the shipment to the United States, the shipment was described as "return exhibition of goods'' and was valued at $1,470,965.   
The shipment from Hong Kong was interdicted by CBP at the Port of Miami on or about June 4, 2011. CBP officials conducted an inventory of the shipment and observed anomalies between the contents of the shipment and the invoice and other paperwork that had been submitted. While the shipment consisted of approximately 488 items, the paperwork accompanying the shipment failed to list approximately 50 items. Upon further review, questions were raised about the provenance: of certain items contained within the shipment, including items of Chinese fine art that pertained to the time period prior to 907 A.D. (the "Pre-907 items'). It was later determined that the shipment had approximately 27 Pre-907 items.  
Subsequent to the items being interdicted at the Port of Miami, CBP officers observed four Chinese artifacts contained within a FedEx box located in the shipment that were not listed on any invoice or manifest, two of which were Pre-907 items, Other items in the shipment were not listed on any invoice or manifest. ... An appraiser hired by CBP determined that the domestic value of the shipment was approximately $3,177,825. 
The government adds that the defendants' "'proof' that the Pre-907 items contained in the shipment were in fact inside the United States prior to January 14, 2009" consisted of paperwork falsely backdated to May 9, 2006. Prosecutors contend that the defendants supplied the fake paperwork in an effort to convince authorities that the artifacts arrived on American soil prior to the enactment of the MoU between the U.S. and China.

Sentencing of the defendants is expected to take place in February.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Justice

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Text copyrighted 2010-2013 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT INFORMATION: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com